Can A Movie Help My Family Understand My Hearing Loss?

I struggle to fully explain my hearing loss to my family. How I hear some things, but miss others. Why I can understand them in certain environments, but not other places. How my hearing aids don’t work like glasses? Why I am exhausted at the end of the day from the extra concentration required of me each day simply to communicate. I have been searching for a way to illustrate my hearing loss to my family and friends for years. Perhaps Wonderstruck is it.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

Wonderstruck, a new film based on the book by the same name, follows the adventures of two deaf children — a girl, Rose, who has been deaf since birth, and a boy, Ben, who grew up hearing, but was recently deafened due to an accident. Ben has a clear leg up, because he can speak, helping him communicate with the hearing world in at least one direction.

The film depicts hearing problems in interesting ways, featuring silent segments for Rose, and muffled sound in the scenes with Ben. This trick allows the audience to experience the situations from their point of view.

I don’t consider myself deaf in the truest sense of the word since I have significant residual hearing that I augment with hearing aids, which help me hear in many situations. Yet the experiences of the deaf protagonists in the film still rang true for me.

— Strangers speaking to you, assuming you can hear them and becoming angry when you do not reply. I have gotten many dirty looks for my “rudeness” over the years, especially in crowded stores when someone mumbles, “Excuse me,” from behind but I don’t move.

— The near miss with a car or truck when walking on a crowded city street. This has happened to me many times, but most profoundly on my recent trip to China where my hearing aids melted from the heat and I was left in silence. Street crossing was treacherous.

— Being shushed by a friend for talking too loudly in a quiet place. Ben can’t seem to gauge the volume of his own voice. Neither can most people with hearing loss. I always appreciate if others tell me to adjust my voice to an appropriate level.

— When your family members or close friends forget you cannot hear well and talk to you without facing you for what feels like the millionth time. And after you remind them, they do it again a few minutes later. This is not only frustrating, but it hurts. If the people closest to you cannot remember to speak in a way that you can understand, what hope can you have for others? We see this pain on the screen as Ben continually reminds his new friend he cannot understand his spoken words.

— How people assume you know sign language because you have trouble hearing. Sign language must be learned, like any new language. It does not come as a package deal when you lose your hearing, although sometimes I wish it did.

After the movie, my husband seemed to better understand the isolation of poor hearing. Maybe it is easier to witness it from afar than up close each day. He found it frustrating when the sound of the movie was garbled, making it hard for him to understand what the characters were saying. Welcome to my daily struggle, I was thinking.

The funny thing is that I could often understand the dialogue even when the sound was muffled, because I read lips. “What did Rose’s mother say to her in her dressing room?” my husband wanted to know. “What did you do to your hair?” I told him. He had no idea. He might even have been a little impressed by my skills.

The Wonderstruck version we saw had open captions, where the dialogue appears on the screen in words, just like closed captions on your TV at home. This was a treat for those of us in the audience with hearing loss and useful for the hearing folks too. Many movie theaters offer captioned glasses or caption readers, but having the captions right on the screen was wonderful.

The parts with distorted audio were not captioned to keep the viewing experience as true to that of the hard of hearing characters as possible. One memorable scene showed Rose’s father screaming at her for a minor thing she did wrong. We see the father’s anger in his distorted facial features and witness Rose’s terror through her wide-eyed stare. She can’t understand his words, only his rage, and the experience is the same for us, unless we can read his lips.

Also left uncaptioned were the scenes involving sign language, again to demonstrate the communication challenges faced by the recently deafened character that did not sign.

I applaud the producers for screening the film with open captions in numerous instances to promote better accessibility for the hard of hearing community, but I wonder if they could have gone farther.

If increased accessibility is a goal of the film, why not screen the film with open captions every time? Not only could this film be a breakout way to demonstrate the experience of hearing impairment to hearing audiences, it could encourage theater owners to provide more such screenings of other movies in the future. This would be a meaningful change for our community that lingers well past this movie’s release.

Readers, will you see the film with your family?

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29 thoughts on “Can A Movie Help My Family Understand My Hearing Loss?

  1. Yes. We will see this movie. It sounds like a breakthrough statement about deafness. CA, my partner-in-life, knows completely about my condition, yet she constantly ignores the “rules” about communicating with me. I think part of the problem is that in general, my hearing and understanding in everyday life has improved remarkably in the year and a half after my CI operation. It’s easy for her to assume a level of “normalcy” that simply does not exist. The movie sounds like it would speak to us both. Thanks.

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  2. I would love my family to see this movie, but they are scattered throughout the states…I so agree your statement about the lip reading…I hate when someone talks to me and has their fingers n front of their lips or turns their head while talking to me…I have started saying…if you want to talk to me and want a reply turn your head and look at me…

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  3. Thank you for this, I will go see the movie asap.

    Regarding this: “When your family members or close friends forget you cannot hear well and talk to you without facing you for what feels like the millionth time. And after you remind them, they do it again a few minutes later…”

    I have come to the unfortunate conclusion, after 40 plus years of the kind of hearing you have that some people, even if they are really close to you, will never get it, period. And its a waste of energy to try. On the other, much nicer hand, there are some people who are incredible, they get it right away and are completely understanding, facing you, being sure they have your attention. Cherish these folks.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this info. I can’t wait for my children to see this. I don’t think they ever really understood. I hope this will help them understand. I would have never known about the film without your blog.

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  5. Yes, I will watch this movie. More than that I hope friends and family will watch it and maybe get a clue as to what those of us with less than perfect hearing go through each day. I am SSD and wear a Baha for my deaf side. It makes for challenging hearing in many places. I’ve gotten really good at bluffing during conversations especially in noisier environments and people must think I’m getting it or I’m really a dope. I mostly don’t care anymore cause it’s just too tiring. If someone yells “fire” or some other alarm I’ll just watch others’ reactions and act accordingly. With any luck many people will see Wonderstruck and catch on – even a little.

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  6. Really looking forward to seeing this movie Wonderstruck! Thanks Shari for your great preview and interpretation of the story. I also enjoy the captions right on the screen, so much easier on our poor eyes that are already maxed out. My BIGGEST pet peeve is when someone shushes me for talking too loud! Its very degrading and makes you feel like a 5 year old kid! I have not yet lived THAT long , but have lived long enough to not really care if someone gets frustrated with me because I can’t hear them.
    A GREAT next topic on this site should be “Surviving at Your job with a hearing impairment “!

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  7. Yes, I am looking forward to seeing this film and hope to convince my family to come too, for the deaf/hard of hearing perspectives, and to see New York City and the American Museum of Natural History portrayed in the 1927 and 1977 eras.

    Thanks for your review from a hard of hearing moviegoer’s perspective, especially your mention of the film’s deliberately muffled audio — this should be interesting for normal hearing audience members.

    Last month, this movie was the closing gala film of the international film festival where I live. While I did not have tickets, I emailed the organizers informing them that this was the ideal film to be open-captioned because of the deaf and hard of hearing main characters, and suggested that open-captioning would be a wonderful gesture to any deaf and hard of hearing audience members. Their reply indicated that they were receptive to accommodating this, but unfortunately, after investigating this, they replied that the film copy they had did not have captions. Shari, I agree with you that the producers/filmmakers could have gone further with open-captioning here. Default open-captioning this film for all screenings would have significantly impacted hearing impairment awareness/accessibility/inclusion beyond the film’s theatrical run.

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  8. A wonderful post, thanks, Shari. I was thrilled to read your comments about broadening the use of open captioning. Many theater owners feel that hearing viewers will find OC (open captioning) annoying, so the focus has been on providing assistive devices. Now that there is greater awareness about the prevalence of hearing loss, also that many foreign films (with OC) are screened weekly, especially in larger cities and film festivals, perhaps OC will eventually become the norm. We should ask theater owners for OC when we visit. Also, if you have outdoor summer film festivals in your communities, they will often be more open to turning on the captions since the screenings are free to viewers…a good way to increase awareness about the value of OC. People with hearing loss have accomplished great things by advocating for what they need. Thanks for putting this out there, Shari!

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  9. Really resonate with this article since I was born with a severe hearing loss and wear hearing aids! I’ve been trying to figure out a way to convey these details. I’ve worked in entertainment for several years, so I was really excited to see this movie. While I liked it, I still felt like there was more they could do. I think the thing I’d love to see portrayed is exactly what you mentioned about being able to hear but not always or clearly. I think there’s a middle ground between complete deafness and hearing that needs to be conveyed more. Thanks for sharing this!

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  10. Hi

    A few years ago now there was a French film who’s title translates as “Read My Lips” where the central character is a hearing impaired young woman who wears hearing aids.

    The file came with English subtitles and if still available is a good watch as it focuses on her struggle to cope with her hearing loss in the modern “hearing” world.

    Ian

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      • Thanks for the film suggestion Ian, love foreign films, and usually always come with built in captions when shown in theaters. I found myself watching them on long flights on airplanes because the English films usually don’t come with any captions . But not many theaters in my area show foreign films , NYC has the most .

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